We do not need to site references to support the observation that violence is a part of campus life. The campus shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University are still too clear in our minds to be forgotten. Behind these vivid memories are often reported and unreported incidents of physical and sexual assaults upon students by other students. The purpose of this article is to remind the campus residence hall community that the “residence hall floor” is a key component in the prevention of campus violence. This assertion is based on two notions that will be explored in this article – the resident hall floor is a community and communities can be constructed in ways to promote “character strengths” (Peterson & Seligman, 2004) that lead to supporting and nurturing places and not places which breed hostility and violence.
Residence Hall Floors as Communities
Most common dictionaries define community as a body or group of people living in the same place under the same rules. Certainly the residence hall floor meets this definition. Dozens of scholars have also given more elaborate definitions of community and within this myriad of definitions two common themes emerge: the idea of interdependence (common destiny, mutual understanding, and bonding) and the idea of community process (participation, communications, reciprocal sharing of differences) (Banning, 2001). Even this more elaborate definition is a good fit for the residence hall floor. Certainly there are students of many different backgrounds and through the many processes associated with communication they come together to shape a common destiny or interdependence. The next question to be addressed by this article is what are the viewpoints or attitudes that can come together at the level of a residence hall floor to promote a sense of nurturance as well as deterrence to violence? To answer this question we turn to the work of Peterson & Seligman (2004) – Character Strengths and Virtues.
Residence Hall Floors “Character Strengths”
Peterson & Seligman present 24 character strengths organized within six major virtues. While these strengths are typically associated with individuals, Spano (2008) used the strength and virtue approach to discuss the concept of nurturing institutional cultures of caring. Spano applied the work of Peterson & Seligman to the campus culture as whole with a similar purpose to this article – outlining “what campuses can do to create and strengthen the campus features that protect against violence.” (Spano, p. 17). Our task is to outline how a residence hall floor can strengthen its functioning to promote nurturance and to protect against violence. Our outline, due to the limitations of space will only scratch the surface of this approach, so we recommend a full reading of Peterson & Seligman (2004) and Spano (2008).
Here is our outline:
1. Residence hall floors should conduct themselves from the virtue of wisdom and knowledge. The wisdom and knowledge virtue according to Peterson & Seligman (2004) includes such strengths as creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning and perspective or wisdom. In other words, the decisions that resident hall floors arrive at to guide their community should not be haphazard or capricious. They should be guided by thoughtfulness that comes from the best wisdom and knowledge of the floor residents.
2. In the face of carrying out the decisions of the residence hall floor, courage to seek accomplishment of the floor goals is important. The virtue of courage includes bravery, persistence, integrity, and vitality (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Apathy is not a choice under the virtue of courage. The floor needs to pull together to meets its goals.
3. How the floor works together falls under the virtue of humanity. Humanity is described by Peterson & Seligman (2004) as including love, kindness, and social intelligence. Finding wisdom and knowledge and courage is a process that must be built on the notion that everyone should be included. The floor should seek through its humanity to include all and all residents should feel they are valued and treated with kindness. Under this virtue there is not a place for exclusion, not inviting, or leaving out residents.
4. Justice is the fourth virtue presented by Peterson & Seligman (2004). It includes the strengths of citizenship, fairness, and leadership. These strengths call for the residence hall floor to carry out its community processes within a leadership structure that is committed, fair, and just. Procedures are established at the floor level to protect against bias, favoritism, and exclusion.
5. Temperance is the next virtue and is described to “protect against excess” (Peterson & Seligman, 2004, p. 30). Included in this virtue are the strengths of forgiveness and mercy, humility/modesty, prudence, and self-regulation. A floor operating with these strengths would be willing to give residents second chances when they err, as well as moving their floor agenda forward with caution, care, and respect.
6. The final virtue presented by Peterson and Seligman (2004) is transcendence. Transcendence includes the strengths of appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, and spirituality. The notion here is that we need to appreciate a deeper meaning of our work. The floor’s agenda should not be self-serving, for example, it should relate to a vision or meaning larger than the floor. This larger meaning or vision should be pursued with hope, humor, and an appreciation of the good things that happen on the floor.
The purpose of this article was to present “residence hall floors” as important communities within the campus’s ecology. If the residence hall floor conducts itself by embracing the virtues of wisdom and knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence, then it will both create a nurturing community and a community that can contribute to the reduction of violence at all levels of the campus community.
•Banning, J.H. (2001). Developing the environmental program. In M. Bartley-Taylor (Ed.) Higher education housing facilities, (pp. 38-43). Charlottesville, VA: National Association of College Auxiliary Services.
•Peterson, C. & Seligman, M.E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A Handbook and classification.
Oxford: American Psychological Association & Oxford University Press.
•Spano, D. B. (2008). Nurturing institutional cultures of caring. About Campus, January-February, 7-23.
Submitted by James Banning, Environmental Psychologist and Professor in the School of Education at Colorado State University; & Linda Kuk, Associate Professor of Education, Colorado State University